Wildlife advocates will sue to protect Pacific walrus

PHOTO U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY: Melting Arctic sea ice is forcing walrus colonies into a shore-bound existence to which they aren’t adapted. Scientists say they’ve documented several cases of young calves being trampled in stampedes.

Wildlife advocates say science ignored in decision not to list species

Staff Report

The Trump administration’s reckless and irresponsible natural resource polices will once again be tested in court, as conservation advocates challenge the government’s denial of endangered species protection for the Pacific walrus.

The Center for Biological Diversity announced it will sue the U.S. Fish and Wildife Service, pointing out that the agency apparently ignored the best available climate science, which would violate the Endangered Species Act. Under the Obama administration, the agency found that the Pacific walrus warrants protection because of a dramatic loss of sea ice habitat.

“There’s no question Pacific walruses are endangered, so denying them protection is absurd and dangerous,” said Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The sea ice these animals need to survive is melting away. This ridiculous, about-face decision reflects the Trump administration’s hostility to wildlife, science and the rule of law.”

The walrus saga has been going on for almost 10 years. Conservation advocates first petitioned for a listing in 2008, and in 2011, the USFWS put the species on the candidate list in waiting position. A subsequent court-ordered settlement on listing procedures required the agency to make a final decision by Sept. 2017.

The Pacific walrus lives in Arctic waters off Alaska and needs sea ice for giving birth, nursing and resting. Over the past decade, climate change has caused summer sea ice to disappear from the walrus’s shallow foraging grounds in the Chukchi Sea.

Today’s letter notes that the Service’s “unlawful, politically motivated decision deprives the species of needed protections in the face of climate change and melting sea ice and leaves the species at serious risk of extinction.” The letter also points out that the Service ignored the science, reversed its position that climate change threatens the walrus, and used an unlawfully short timeframe for its analysis of climate threats.

Without summer sea ice for resting, walrus mothers and calves have been forced to come ashore, where they have limited access to food and young walruses are vulnerable to being trampled to death or attacked by predators.

This year once again, thousands of Pacific walruses were forced ashore when sea ice disappeared — the earliest haul-out event federal officials have documented. A survey of the area on Sept. 11 found 64 dead walruses, most of them less than a year old. They were likely trampled to death in a stampede.

“Walruses will vanish if federal officials continue to ignore their plight,” Monsell said. “This is a cruel denial of our responsibility to these animals. That’s why we’re turning to the courts to overturn the denial and help save the walrus from extinction.”

The listing of the Pacific walrus would not affect subsistence harvest of the species by Alaska natives.

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